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John LANCHBERY (1923-2003)
Tales of Beatrix Potter  (music from the Royal Ballet film) (1971)
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/John Lanchbery
rec. No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London, 1970
CLASSICS FOR PLEASURE 393 2302 [52.34]



The success of the new version of the ballet “La Fille mal gardeé” with choreography by Frederick Ashton in 1960 was due in a large measure to a wonderfully apt and interesting adaptation of the original 1828 score by John Lanchbery.  It was therefore no surprise that some ten years later Ashton turned again to Lanchbery to provide the music for a ballet to be produced specifically for the cinema based on The Tales of Beatrix Potter.  This time, however, the sources of the music were more varied.  They are described simply as “Victorian themes” in the very brief notes provided with the present CD, which makes no attempt to identify their composers or the works themselves from which they derive.  Although somewhat frustrating for the listener it is probably fair as more of the listening pleasure comes from the very imaginative arrangement and scoring, often employing pastiche of earlier and better known ballets, rather than from the inherent quality of the original music.  Even then, however, I found that my attention wandered on first hearing, and was only restored after I had watched again the relevant parts of the film.
 
At this point a problem arises.  The words “Music from the Royal Ballet film” on the cover of the CD implies that the various tracks derive from the recordings used in that film - omitting a few additional non-musical sound-effects - but they conceal the wholesale change of order on the CD.  This begins with “The Tale of Two Bad Mice” rather than “Mrs Tiggy-Winkle’s Laundry” (Track 3 on the CD) and follows it with “The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin”, the penultimate section of the film.  Perhaps this revised order corresponds to that used in the more recent stage version of the ballet, which I have not seen, but neither this nor any other explanation is given in the notes. 
 
Turning at last to the actual content of the CD, we have about two-thirds of the original music, all well played and recorded.  As I have said, not all is of very great interest on its own, but I would have thought that anyone sufficiently interested to buy a CD of it might reasonably want it all or at least most to be included even if they did not listen to the whole of it every time.  As the film lasts only fractionally over 80 minutes it would have been perfectly possible for this CD to have been substantially complete.  As it is, I can recommend it only with a strong caveat, and suggest the DVD as being possibly a better alternative.
 
John Sheppard
 
And a further view from Rob Barnett …

Like so much ballet music this is fluffy and proud of it.
 
The idiom is one that the composer had absorbed through his pores during a career which had taken him to the Metropolitan Ballet and the Sadler’s Wells Theatre before becoming principal conductor for the Royal Ballet in 1960. Do not expect anything startling. This is a light and frothy confection brewed from the nineteenth century broth of Messager, Bournonville, Auber, Rossini and Tchaikovsky. Its accent is on romantic gesture, charm and humour. The waltz in The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin is pleasing and so is the Neapolitan jangle of the mandolin evocation in Mrs Tiggywinkle's Laundry.
 
I am not clear as to why we are offered only an extract from The Tale of Jeremy Fisher. Presumably this is because the disc apes an LP original and the safe total playing time in 1970 was not much more than 53 minutes. The Tale of Pigling Bland is, at 15:12, the longest of the eight movements. It's a charming nonchalant little piece in the manner of Ponchielli's Dance of the Hours. The hesitations and music-box terpsichore of The Mouse Waltz has the whirling embrace of Johann Strauss about it.
 
This music is essentially a highly accomplished pastiche and belongs with the greats of classic ballet alongside Le Cid, La Fille Mal Gardée, Les Deux Pigeouins and La Bayadère. It makes a confidently smiling in memoriam for this too easily forgotten conductor. It will also stir memories of the much travelled film for which it was written in 1970 as well as the complete ballet which Lanchbery later crafted from the original cinema score.
 
Rob Barnett
 



 


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